Josh Harris building competitor after contentious Apollo split
Liz is Semafor’s Business & Finance Editor, joining us from the Wall Street Journal. Sign up for Semafor Business to get her scoops in your inbox three times a week.
This story was originally published on Aug. 30, 2022.
Josh Harris, whose messy exit from Apollo riveted Wall Street a year ago, is back. Almost two years after losing a power struggle at the investing giant, he’s building his own firm–and building it to compete, people familiar with the matter said.
Among his early hires: Lance West, who helped build private-equity firm Centerbridge in the 2000s and guided its international expansion; Blackstone’s Tina Raja, a fundraising specialist; and Brendan McGovern, a former Goldman Sachs credit investor.
Harris is private-equity royalty. He founded Apollo in 1990 with Leon Black and Marc Rowan, all Drexel alums. When Black stepped down as CEO last year after his financial ties to Jeffrey Epstein surfaced, Harris seemed the heir apparent. The job went instead to Rowan, who’d been on a "semi-sabbatical" for months. Harris stepped back in May 2021 and said this month that he'd soon be stepping off the board.
In the middle of all of this, Black sued Harris, accusing him of orchestrating a plot to destroy him. The suit was later dismissed and it’s too long and strange a story to rehash here but you can read about it.
Fast forward, Harris is building a new firm with serious people and seemingly global ambitions. It is separate from both Harris’ family office and his sports venture, through which he owns the 76ers and NJ Devils.
The new firm is expected to compete in credit and insurance, areas Harris knows well. Apollo’s post-2008 bet on annuities, life insurance and other extremely dull things was one of the most profitable moves in the history of high finance. It seeded Athene and later acquired the firm, which has turned into a gold mine and sparked a rush of copycats across Wall Street.
Most big investment firms now have a credit or insurance business, a gold-rush homage to what Harris helped build at Apollo. And a crop of nonbank lenders have gotten quite big and profitable fast doing this, among them Sixth Street and Blue Owl, which from a dead start five years ago now has $119 billion in assets.